Catalog Merchandise: Fall Themes–Channeling Cole Porter

It’s not easy trying to write a merchandise trend column on the home furnishings front nearly every quarter, as trends emerge slowly — especially in a recession year. But after attending the summer trade shows, I am much more upbeat than I was last spring. Speaking to the product vendors as well as the catalog buyers, I felt an air of optimism all around for the fall season. In fact, many of the vendors had an increased amount of new merchandise in their line to compensate for the SARS epidemic that kept buyers from traveling overseas to Asia.

As far as trends are concerned, there are so many styles, designs, and colors out there in the marketplace that I am inspired to quote the great composer Cole Porter to describe the overall vibe: “Anything goes!”

For every yin there is a yang, and I believe it all has to do with the emotions of the day. Since our small world changed dramatically two years ago, our desire to stay closer to home has more often than not intensified our desire to decorate and redecorate. We want our home to become like our clothing — comfortable and “ready to wear.” We also want our home to emotionally satisfy our desire for beauty and contentment, as well as security. So any color that brings a smile to our face is definitely in!

The hot hues

If you were in Italy a year ago, you would have seen red everywhere. Well, now you see it here everywhere, but in less intense tones. Look for shades of a deeper red mellowing into wine and then a lighter red opening up into pink once again. Red is a powerful color and signifies love.

We can’t seem to get enough of pink — ever. It’s certainly prevalent in fashion: Vogue magazine’s August cover had actress Sarah Jessica Parker in a hot-pink evening gown. But in the Atlanta Gift Show, there was a fabulous introduction of black, beige, and light pink. The combo was thrilling and very upbeat. Pink signifies the feminine spirit, as well as an innocence we would wish to have again.

As I predicted in the last column, the pale neutral “heavy cream” is appearing everywhere alongside many colors. This ivory shade is popular because it’s so easy on the eyes and so easy to blend anywhere.

Green is, well, an evergreen. But more recently green has emerged once again as a hot color, with no one shade taking precedence. I think green is a sign of hope in our future.

Gold seems to be emerging for next year because it’s warmer and more soothing to the eye than the white metals. Nonetheless, I’m sure that silver, pewter, and stainless steel will remain as popular as ever.

Themes for 2004

From the Far East to the Wild West, the themes we’ll see cropping up next year take their cue from many cultures. Here are just a few of the ideas influencing home decor:

  • Asian Eclectic

    This new dramatic motif is the perfect theme for showing how yin and yang we can get in the same breath. The display seen at the bottom right combines a patchwork rug with a Buddha, enhanced with vintage lamps, Indian pillows, and Italian glass.

  • Mediterranean or Aegean Casual

    Sounds like a new cruise line, doesn’t it? Indeed, this theme does “cruise” into colors galore and highly decorative waters. Reflecting the blue-greens of the Mediterranean Sea as well as the red corals of the Aegean sun, this mixture of vibrant colors invites us in to sit down and relax with a spot of espresso, per favore.

  • Rhapsody in Blue

    This is a more formal, “citified” look. Deeper color tones make you want to feel all those luxurious textures, from the printed velvets to the lustrous damasks, from the shimmery silks to the shiny satins, I’m sure that George Gershwin could compose a tune for this elegant theme — perhaps he did!

  • Patchwork

    This theme represents our world today — so many nationalities trying to live together in harmony in our “dishdash” kind of country. If you put a patchwork design on any element of home furnishings, it’s a winner. From rugs to quilts to mirrors, this design runs through myriad of fashion statements. Patchwork offers a flexible way of combining fabrics into a harmonious entity.

  • European

    Old World from Rome to Paris with accents of black wood (wood is hot!) and glass or crystal accents, with acid-etched glass taking on more popularity than ever before. We’re now seeing colored glass etched — a technique in which acid is used to “eat” the design into the copper printing surface, instead of painted — in the marketplace. From China to the Czech Republic comes more and better glassware. The furniture for this theme is very relaxed. The buzzword is “comfortable,” with sofas that are up-to-date but classic in style.

    The European-design lampshades may still have some embellishments on them, but they sport perhaps a few discreet tassels rather than all those beads, please. The rugs in this theme are Aubusson — the 19th-century French reproductions of the flat-woven tapestry rugs that usually have a geometric medallion in the center with intricate garlands or bunch of flowers on the border.

  • Cowgirl

    This is my favorite theme because I’ve always wanted to be a cowgirl. (And coming from the streets of Manhattan, this was definitely a stretch!) Dreams of the Wild West abound with leather and brass accents; picture handpainted leather pillows with loads of fringe to be “worn” on a faux-skin sofa with wood accents. This is not your father’s Roy Rogers-type Western look — we’re talking very upscale here.

    If you notice in some areas of the country, equestrian stores are opening up on Main Street, and that’s simply amazing. Perhaps it has something to do with the Seabiscuit movie craze, but horses are definitely in! At the Atlanta Gift Show, a fabulous 5/A Baker Collection featured accessories inspired by a renowned horse blanket that for more than a century has been identified by a distinguished English tartan — very Burberry-like.

  • English Country Garden

    How about taking the above Cowgirl theme and adding another bit of panache to it? I would take that fabulous new tartan and add an English Country Garden theme including topiaries, boxwood, and English white wire furniture — now I’m really getting excited! It’s so hard to find new garden themes for spring, and there is so little new in this category that I would rhapsodize over putting a different spin to it.

Hot commodities

Rugs are still hot for mail order, and especially big for spring are those with “allover” patterns. Years ago I thought this type of rug would never, ever sell — I always thought that rugs needed a border. But today’s trend proves me wrong. These allover-pattern rugs are especially wonderful with florals in dreamy colors.

Although wall decor is changing once more, in many ways it seems that everything old is new again. For instance, in the days of yesteryear there were tapestries — and then last year there were more and more tapestries. In yesteryear there were oils — this year oils are also making a comeback. (It’s part of that oh-so-traditional look, or as the younger set sometimes says, “that oh-no traditional look.”) In yesteryear there were mirrors — this year there are ever-bigger mirrors.

But what’s different today is that there’s a true search for “alternative wall decor” items. These are the giant metal or wood medallions that are becoming ever more popular, as well as all the frameless canvas transfers, which have been and continue to be hot — especially in the liquor-label category. For example, think of all the vintage champagne or cognac ads that have been turned into art.

I found a new home decor accent category at the summer shows that I thought was quite clever — it’s a ceramic wall pocket/shelf (see photo at left). This decorative item can be used as a shelf or as a wall planter.

And finally, furniture is trying to shed its bad rap of being one serious dude of a purchase. It’s actually becoming whimsical and playful — particularly in the occasional-table category. I discovered a rather unusual two-tier table (see photo above left), which I salivated over at a market in Dallas. This is an ingenious example of two disparate designs coming together to make one perfectly creative piece of furniture. I think we are definitely going to see more of this in the future.

It’s been a tough few years for catalogers and retailers to find products to tempt cautious consumers to buy. But I am seeing some exciting trends and merchandise in the markets. Feature some of these items in your catalog, and as Cole Porter might have said, consumers are bound to get a kick out of you.

Kathy Revello is a partner with Lenser, a San Rafael, CA-based catalog merchandising, marketing, and list management consultancy.

Enter the 2004 Annual Catalog Awards and I.Merchant Awards by Jan. 9 and save $25 off the cost of each entry!

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